Working From Home

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For a couple of years, it was known that my employer would be closing my office.  Last July, I began working from home full time.  What has the experience been like?

Advantages: Financial

Gas / auto - I reduced my daily driving by 46 miles.  There are 260 work days in a year.  After accounting for vacation days and holidays, that leaves about 230 days.  230 days X 46 miles is a savings 0f 10,580 miles per year.  I would get about 32 mpg and the current cost of gas here (Iowa) is about $2.099 per gallon.  (10,580/32) * $2.099 = $693.98 in fuel savings.

However, there's also much less wear and tear on the car.  The car is a 2007 Hyundai Elantra with 138,000 miles on the odometer.  I'm (hopefully) extending the life of the car a few years by driving it less - allowing me to push back the purchase of a new(er) car by a few years.  Lazy Man wrote about the cheapest cars to own a few months back.  The very cheapest cars to own cost about 40 cents per mile.  40 cents per mile X 10,580 miles =  $4,232.  That's the equivalent of getting a raise of about  $7,000 (since the automobile cost savings is a direct cash-in-pocket savings).  (Are you wondering if it's possible for us to get rid of one of the cars and cut that expense entirely?  Good idea, but just not feasible with kids and schedules.)

Food - When I worked out of the office, I ate out a lot.  I'm often up until 1:00 AM or so (for work) and was getting up at 6 AM.  Getting the kids (8 and 5) into the car was enough of a struggle without worrying about packing my own lunch.  I didn't eat at extravagant places, but even at fast food places, it's not hard to spend $7 on a meal.  I'd often end up buying a snack (or two) from the Goodie Box at the office.

When working from home, it's easy to make a sandwich or some other quick meal that utilizes ingredients in the house. When I began working from home, I also planned to walk around the block during my breaks and eat healthier - ham sandwiches and the occasional salad instead of so much fried food.

Advantages: Non-financial

Sleep - I can sleep until almost 6:30 and still have plenty of time to get ready, corral the kids, drop them off, and get back home in time to start the work day.  That's a net gain of about 25 minutes of sleep per day - for both me and the kids.

No driving - I hate driving.  I'm not subject to big traffic jams, but I simply don't like driving.  Cutting the drive time out of the day makes me happier.

Flexibility - I'm always home if a repairman needs to drop by.  I'm always there when a package gets delivered.  I can throw a load of clothes into the washer every once in a while.  I can pick up the kids and have them working on homework by the time my wife gets home.  It's much easier to make it to after-work appointments.  It's been a big win not just for me, but for the family.

Disadvantages: Financial

Utilities - I'll use more water, gas, and electricity since I'll be home more.  We have a pretty energy efficient home, which keeps heating costs reasonable in the winter.  I don't run the A/C much during the day (I prefer it a little warm), so that's not a big factor.  My two laptops use  electricity, but that's a much smaller impact that you may think - computers actually don't use much electricity.

Disadvantages: Non-Financial

Social interaction - I live in a neighborhood that's solidly middle class.  Almost every family has both spouses working.  It's a young neighborhood that has only existed for about a decade, so there aren't many retired people (by my count, there are exactly two).  The net effect is that it's dead quiet during the day, and there's no face to face contact unless I run to Amoco for a bowl of chili.

This would bother some people, but I'm a bit of a loner, so it's fine with me.  Also, I'm in a lot of conference calls, so I do have a lot of mouth to ear contact.  Additionally, I'm often listening to podcasts while I work, so there are plenty of voices in my head.  Some of them even intentional.

How is it going?

OK, I'm nine months into the arrangement.  How do I like it so far?  I absolutely love it.

I've driven the Elantra about 3600 miles in those nine months.  I'm spending a lot less money on meals and snacks.  I defrayed the increase in utilities by taking a few minutes one day to replace about 20 light bulbs with LED bulbs.  (We have a lot of bulbs in the house - we have a combined 2700 square feet).

I'm able to get a lot of household tasks done.  I can throw in a load of clothes in the morning and fold during lunch time.  It's much easier to get to appointments.  I've been able to volunteer at school several times.  Explaining my job to second graders was a fascinating experiences - I was peppered with questions, very few of which related to the specifics of my job.

Has everything gone perfectly?  Not exactly.  Remember the plan to eat healthy and walk around the block during my breaks?  That lasted about three days.  I have a lot of difficulty pulling myself away from work during the day.  I've found that I strongly prefer something hot for lunch.  For $4.50, I can get a bowl of delicious chili and a 44 oz Pepsi from the local Amoco (a country store type of place that sells everything from fried chicken to minnows and power tools).  Sometimes I do throw a Hungry Man meal ($2.50) or a Totino's pizza ($1.25) into the oven.   Sometimes I actually do have a ham sandwich or a salad.  Last week, I made Stove Top and threw in a can of chicken, a bunch of shredded cheese, and some A-1.  Not the healthiest meal in the world, but pretty tasty.  Overall, I'm probably eating slightly healthier than I was before.

And I'm famous.  The employees at Amoco all know me as the guy who likes the chili.

This post deals with: ... and focuses on:

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Posted on April 27, 2016.

Factors To Consider When Making Money Working Overseas

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The following is an article by Justin Grossbard from 457VisaCompared. I invited him to discuss the financials involved with looking abroad to work and moving overseas. A few years ago I read from a personal finance blogger (I forget who) that you can make a lot of money overseas.

Many of the world’s great entrepreneurs and successful business people are those who not only find opportunity domestically but also abroad. While it’s common for multinational companies to send individuals overseas for temporary posting, another growing trend has been professionals moving to countries on skilled visas such as the UK’s HSMP visa or Australia’s 457 visa. When considering making such a move, it’s important to weight up the key elements which are discussed below.

Ease Of Receiving The Working Visa In The Host Country

Surprisingly worldwide immigration even for skilled individuals is very limited with many countries remaining virtually closed to prospective employees. While a visa such as the HSMP UK will allow an individual to move to the UK and then find a job, other schemes such as the 457 visa in Australia require you to find an eligible job first. Some countries migration scheme’s will also favor prospective workers from one area compared to another, so it’s important to first understand if you can get an actual visa first before researching further.

Ease Of Getting A job In The Country Chosen

A common mistake is individuals who move to a country only to find out that either they can’t find a job or that they are earning relatively less than in their home country. Going to the international labor organization website can be helpful to understand wage levels combined with local job sites. It’s critical to also factor in the cost of living as well naturally. Additionally, the unemployment rate and the demand for jobs in the area you are skilled in must be factored in as most countries will pay no unemployment benefits while you are looking for a job.

Hidden Immigration Costs

It’s critical to understand the true cost of becoming a working visa holder in a host country. An example is health insurance with 457 visa compared highlighting that for a family in Australia has to pay up to $300USD. Migrants also are not necessarily going to receive the same entitlements as locals such as school fees with cost skilled migrants $4,000 per child in Western Australia.

Ability To Gain Permanent Residency

While your move abroad may be purely financial, it’s important to think long-term as:

  • You may like the location you have moved to and want to live in the are permanently
  • Your pay may increase over your stay and it may be a financially poor move to relocate back to the country of origin

Working visa’s will vary in length with some allowing extensions while others will allow the visa holder to become a permanent resident. It’s really worth researching these areas as the last thing anyone wants is to move back home only because of a visa requirement. Employers may also be less willing to hire an applicant which can only work in their country for a set period.

Overall, any working professional should keep an eye on opportunity and consider relocating if the opportunity presents itself. Working overseas can be  a lucrative one and enjoyable but extensive research should always be done first to ensure its right for you and worthwhile.

This post deals with: ... and focuses on:

Career, Employment

Last updated on February 11, 2014.

Unemployment Adventures: Dealing with Debt and Cash Flow

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[Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by Elizabeth West. She's been recently unemployed and has agreed to share her experience with Lazy Man and Money readers. You can catch more of her writing at Graphomaniac and follow her on Twitter as DameWritesalot.]

Being unemployed means I can't pay my bills as easily as I did before.  The money coming in, even on unemployment insurance (UI) payments, is sharply reduced.  It's oh so easy to get behind.

While it's tempting to just shove bills into a file folder and not even open them, it's not a good idea.   That won't stop them from coming.  It also won't stop them from piling up.  So what's a girl to do?

First, call creditors and let them know what's going on.  Many times they will work with you.  Mortgage companies are a pain—they have illogical policies on accepting partial payments of any kind.  "Just tack it onto the next payment" doesn't work very well when it takes two checks to make the payment in the first place.  But calling them is better than not saying anything.

Tax debt?  Believe it or not, the IRS people are super nice if you call and talk to them!  I got on a payment plan and was actually able to negotiate something affordable.  So many people are afraid of the IRS, but the agency is made up of human beings.  They do understand that things are rough sometimes, and they will work with you.

Second, I'm trying to keep very good records of what I paid and what I owe.  Paper gets messy, so I try to do as much as possible electronically.  A spreadsheet is a good tool for tracking payments.  Microsoft Office has lots of free templates to download.

I also save my confirmation pages in case a payment doesn't go through.  I use CutePDFTM Writer, a free tool, to save them as a .pdf file on my computer.  It works for web pages, Word docs and other files.  In case there is a dispute, I can produce the confirmation.

Third, when I can, I pay something, even if it's only a few bucks.  If I can sweeten the minimum payment, that's even better.  At least having a minimum that I can actually reach makes me feel less like a total deadbeat loser.

Student loan debt is another animal entirely.  Right now, I'm on a deferment.  I had trouble paying anything for so long, because my income potential is rather limited.   I hope there is a change in the future.  Otherwise I'll die still owing money.

Getting debt paid down is one thing.  Coming up with the cash flow when you're unemployed is another.  Sure, you can take a part-time job while looking for something better, but for me, this is difficult.  Part-time jobs are 20 or 30 hours a week tops, and if that's only $7.00 or $8.00 an hour, it basically works out to less than my UI check.

UI has drawbacks.  It's usually way below what you were making before, and if you get a job, even a crappy, underpaid one, it stops.  As long as I'm getting it, I think the best thing I can do is concentrate on finding full-time work that will allow me to pay bills and get caught up again.

I've sold possessions here and there.  Nothing worth much, unfortunately.  But a pot rack netted some dough, and I may do the tag sale thing again.  I keep that part of my garage clean and ready so all I have to do is price and place merchandise.  Tag sales are a lot of work for little money, but you'd be surprised what people will buy.  I have a lot of craft stuff I'm not using.

Which, of course, I could be using to make crafts I could then sell at my garage sale and online.  That is definitely a possibility, as is exploring more freelance writing options.

I cut my own figure skating music, and I've cut some for other skaters.   This only nets me gas money, but it's better than nothing.

Lastly, I'm lucky my parents are still able to help me out now and then.  I hate that, but sometimes you have to do it.  If I had kids, I'd probably help them too, if they needed it.

These options aren't for everyone, of course.  Some people do odd jobs, and there are a lot of door-knockers who ask to mow my lawn or pick up my brush pile for a few bucks.  If you think outside the box, there are lots of ways to make a bit of cash here and there.  But they won't replace a job.  And that is still the goal.

[Editor's Note: If you enjoyed this article you can read more of Liz's "unemployment adventures": How I Could Have Been Prepared for a Layoff, Unemployment Adventures: Shall I Ditch This or Keep It, and Unemployment Adventures: Jobs Aren't the Same Anymore]

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Last updated on February 5, 2013.

Unemployment Adventures: Jobs Aren’t the Same Anymore

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[Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by Elizabeth West. She's been recently unemployed and has agreed to share her experience with Lazy Man and Money readers. You can catch more of her writing at Graphomaniac and follow her on Twitter as DameWritesalot.]

Being unemployed, my primary activity is job searching.  Since the last time I did this, things have changed.

Back in 2004, I was less well organized.  I kept a list of all the places I applied in a Word document, with notes, and it ended up 50 pages long.  Also, I was less experienced with targeting my resume.

This time, I used a spreadsheet.  Much easier.  I color-coded it—blue for No, purple for No Reply, yellow for In Progress or Interviewed, and light orange for Other (job was cancelled, was bogus, etc.).

Targeting isn't much good when there are hundreds of resumes for the same position, and only one opening.  In January 2005, I got a rejection letter from an employer who mentioned that they got 150 resumes for a posted position.  These days, you don't even get that.  And it's more like 300-400 resumes.

In 2004, online job boards and even the newspaper ads had tons of job listings.   Unemployment benefits require a minimum of job contacts made each week—in my state, it's three.   I had no trouble meeting that requirement.

This time, there are weeks where I struggle to find those three.  I don't believe it's worthwhile to apply to jobs I know will not make ends meet.

For example, a large local healthcare employer posts certain positions that, even without coding and billing experience, I am more than capable of doing.  They start at minimum wage.   In my state, that's $7.50 an hour.   For a 40-hour week, I would still be down $200-250 a month.  Oh, I could do it, if I stopped eating.  And teleported to work.   Gas and car insurance?  Nope.

Nor should I apply to jobs that are way over my head.  All that does is clog employers' inboxes and make me look unfocused.

In 2004, there were still jobs that offered full-time status, benefits, and even chances for advancement.  Many of them did not need a college degree, and if you had one, you might get slightly better pay.

Now, even entry-level positions want a bachelor's.   For those who don't have one, things just got a lot tougher.   Mid-level jobs are gone, like skilled manufacturing positions that were available to high school grads and offered a decent wage.  They've been replaced by low-paid, part time retail/service jobs.

I have two degrees, and I've had jobs that any reasonable, intelligent high school graduate could do.  Of course, that depends on the office, and the grad him/herself.  I think employers are looking for organizational and time management skills they assume college graduates have learned.  They either don't have time to look at experience and transferable skills or don't care.

In 2004, work responsibilities were more fragmented—that is, an office had a receptionist AND an accounting assistant.   That was the case with my last position.

Now, employers who have cut their staff to the bone have combined those jobs into one, and renamed them "Administrative Assistant," or "Office Support."  They're looking for one clerical worker to do everything.

Guess what?

Accounting ain't my thing.  I have problems with numbers.  If I could have picked one thing I do poorly, it wouldn't be that.  I may have to go back to school to work around this issue.

In 2004, when I applied to a position, it was an actual job, posted by a company who wanted someone to stick around for a while.  I even had an interview with someone who told me "We're looking for a long-term employee."  I didn't get the job because I was still in school, and they thought I would bail.   Wasn't planning on it…I had a house to feed.

Now, employers are posting jobs with temp agencies.  They don't want actual employees.  More are using temps short-term or keeping them on for a long time to avoid paying benefits.  I'm afraid the Affordable Care Act is only going to make that worse.

Last time I was unemployed, I temped.  It helped, but it's so unreliable—you can never be sure if there will be work, or for how long.  I tried it this time and all I could find were very short-term assignments.   Some agencies contract temp-to-hire, however, so if all else fails, I might find a job that way.

The recession has changed things in ways we didn't imagine.  As in any situation, survival boils down to who can adapt, not who is best at the status quo.  Like Dory in Finding Nemo says, just keep swimming.

[Editor's Note: If you enjoyed this article you can read more of Liz's "unemployment adventures": How I Could Have Been Prepared for a Layoff, Unemployment Adventures: Shall I Ditch This or Keep It]

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Career, Employment

Posted on January 23, 2013.

Unemployment Adventures: Shall I Ditch This or Keep It

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[Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by Elizabeth West. She's been recently unemployed and has agreed to share her experience with Lazy Man and Money readers. You can catch more of her writing at Graphomaniac and follow her on Twitter as DameWritesalot.]

At the end of January, I wrote a post on my blog, Graphomaniac, about losing my job, the day it happened.  Still in shock at the time, I was pretty optimistic about getting another one soon.

I was wrong.

It's November, and I'm still unemployed.  I've cut and cut but I still can't make ends meet on meager and rapidly-diminishing unemployment, or on the few part-time filler jobs out there.  My small savings has been decimated.

Scaling back doesn't mean I have to live in a hovel and eat bread and water.  But it does require making adjustments in the household budget.

Some things I got rid of:

DirecTV:   My low-tier account is actually on suspension, and I extended it, just in case. If I don't find a decent job by the time it expires in May, or can't afford it on the one I do have, I think I may actually turn it off completely.  I can always sign up again later and take advantage of specials.  Most cable shows are available for free online the next day, or they eventually show up on Netflix.  Delayed gratification is a beautiful thing.  It gives you something to look forward to.

Car payment:  My aging and frequently broken Buick had only one more (tiny) payment when I was laid off.  My parents did me a HUGE favor and got me a nice little Chevy to replace it.  Now when a potential employer asks me if I have reliable transportation, I don't have to lie.  It's paid for, too, so I don't have that expense now.  Thanks, Mom and Dad.  I'm very lucky.

Amazon:  Dear God, I love One-Click Ordering.  Amazon has made it far too easy for me to buy things I don't need, now or anytime.   It's better if I don't even look.  So far, I've managed to stay away from it, except for buying a couple of songs for my skating rink's Christmas ice show.  At 99 cents, they didn't break the bank.

This pretty much goes for all unnecessary shopping.  Unless it breaks and I use it every day, I probably don't need it.

Travel:  This was made much easier by the fact that my long-distance boyfriend broke up with me.   So, no more flying.  Talk about mixed blessings.  Arrgh!

I try to keep car trips to a minimum, and if I have to run errands, I look for ways to cluster them.  That means I don't drive as far or as long, thus saving gas.  Out-of-town trips are a no for now.

Some things I kept:

Landline:  I kept it for DSL.  AT&T has a reputation for wrecking the Internet-only option, and I simply can't afford to be without it.  Employers don't want you to apply in person.  They want to screen you through online apps, or by email.

When I threatened to cancel the landline, they reduced my bill.  Win!

Internet also means communication.  I dropped all but local service on the phone, and now I make long-distance calls either by prepaid cell, or on the computer.  Skype is $2.99 a month, and I can call anywhere, any phone, in the US and Canada.

Netflix:  Since I no longer have satellite TV, Netflix provides the bulk of my entertainment.  A $10 RCA digital antenna from Walmart provides me with OTA network channels.  Disc and streaming is $16.99 a month, but that's way less than I was paying for DirecTV and is doable.  I don't go out much on this budget, so this is it.

Skating:  I'm an adult recreational figure skater.  Our ice rink charges $8.00 for an hour of freestyle time.  I've reduced practice time to one hour a week.  I've cancelled my lessons, although my coach has been helping me out now and again with a discount when she can.

Skating keeps me sane, gives me something to do each week and encourages me to cross-train (walking, using DVDs I already have) instead of living on the couch.  It's worth the little money I spend and if I have an extra ten bucks, I skate an extra hour that week.  I stockpiled fabric, so if I need a costume, I can still sew my own.

Because of these measures, when I do get a job, I'll be used to making do with less.  For most people, that usually means a spending spree.  Not for me.  I had some savings, and I want them again.  Cutting back doesn't have to make you feel deprived.

[Editor's Note: If you enjoyed this article you can read more of Liz's "unemployment adventures": How I Could Have Been Prepared for a Layoff]

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Career, Employment

Posted on January 16, 2013.

Unemployment Adventures: How I Could Have Prepared for a Layoff

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[Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by Elizabeth West. She's been recently unemployed and has agreed to share her experience with Lazy Man and Money readers. You can catch more of her writing at Graphomaniac and follow her on Twitter as DameWritesalot.]

In this economy, there's no telling when the hammer will strike.  Anyone can become unemployed at any time.  I thought my job was somewhat safe.  Nope.

Thankfully, I got a severance, and I had a little bit of savings.  But knowing the state of the economy, I could have done a lot more preparation during the time I was working.   How?  By doing these five things.

5. Upgrading skills

There's no point in waiting until unemployment strikes to learn the latest software, or becoming fluent in another language.  The best time to do that was when I had a job.  Well, actually, I had two jobs last year, so I didn't really have time.  But I do now.

There are numerous free learning resources online for learning new skills or brushing up on old ones.   GCFLearnFree.org has tutorials on everything from Microsoft Office to social media.   Coursera.com and Open Culture aggregate free online courses from top universities.  You may learn something useful, or even find a new passion.

4. Downsizing

We have too much stuff.  Our houses are stuffed, our car trunks are bulging, and our backs are breaking from the weight of purses, backpacks and messenger bags.

Do I need all this junk?  No, I don't.  In my garage, a sad little pot rack lived for many years, alone and friendless.   I'll never have room for it, so I sold it for $30 on Craigslist.  That's not much, but it paid a bill.  An iPod shuffle?  Don't use that, so bye bye.  Now I'm eyeing furniture.  If I have to move, I'll have less to carry.

Selling stuff is great, but you can only do it once.  I still need a bed.  And maybe a plate or two.  I could have done this before and simplified my life.

3. Staying on Top of Bills

Don't get behind.  Just don't.  No matter what.  It's tough.  The recession drove prices up higher, so everything I normally bought—food, clothing, gas—took more money out of the good paycheck.  Any bills I was behind on got worse when I had less money coming in.

Paying bills when they arrive, or as soon as possible afterward, not only keeps relationships with creditors in good standing, it helps avoid late fees.  That money can go into savings.

2. Networking

This doesn’t have much to do with money, but it's vital when you're job searching.  I was employed at a smallish company located in an industrial park.   We didn't have customers coming in.  I didn't meet many people at work.

What I could have done was join a professional organization, while I had the dues money, such as the International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP).  It's a worthwhile investment—local chapters can hook you up with like-minded people in your area.  They offer certifications, and many of them provide discounts on other resources for members.  If you're out of a job, you can tap into your network for leads.

1. Establish an emergency fund

If you read Lazy Man and Money, you probably already have one, or are looking for advice on how to get one.  Good for you!

The next sound you hear will be me banging my head on the desk.  I am such a jerk for not doing this.  There were plenty of times I could have put more into my tiny savings.   And I did not do it.

Why?

I don't know.  Lazy?  Maybe.  Budgeting is tough for me—I have issues with math—so maybe I was just intimidated.

But I do know this.  I vow, once I am gainfully employed again, to faithfully sock away money every pay period, even if it's only $5.00, into a savings account that is for emergencies only.  If I want to go on a trip, I'll save up for that separately.  If I need something, I'll build it into my budget.  The savings are just that—savings.   If my job has a 401K or other plan, I'll contribute to that too.  Had I done that in the last six years, I could have had enough put back to avoid a mandatory cash-out.

My ultimate goal is to have enough to carry me for a couple of years.   Unemployment is lasting much longer these days, since companies aren't hiring the way they were before the recession.  Now that the election is over, let's all hope that changes.

We can learn from every situation.  Preparation is the best way to get through any unexpected setback.

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Career, Employment

Last updated on February 5, 2013.

Raise Update (part 2)

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The time was right for a talk with the boss man today and I have to say that the initial reaction seemed quite positive. I didn't particularly go after any specific numbers, but I should find out tomorrow how much the gap is going to close between what I could get on the open market and what I'm currently paid. I hope this will help my net worth tremendously which hasn't been building as much as I'd like. In fact, I lost 1.2% of my net worth in the last month with the dip in the stock market recently.

In other news, I've transferred another $100 to my Prosper account. That gives a total of $400 in there, with $250 currently invested at an average rate of 18.21%.

Don't forget to read my Prosper Review

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Employment, P2P Lending

Last updated on May 26, 2008.

 
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